This article first appeared on the Eruditorum Press site on 4 October 2015.
I mean, the title is brilliant just on its own.
‘Ghost Champagne’ may well be the best short story of Charlie Jane Anders’ career so far, which, as our host has pointed out in the past, is really saying something. Anders is fond of dusting off old storytelling standards, and so it becomes tempting to fall back on old reviewing standards when describing her work; I laughed, I cried, I was moved unlike anything else I have read this year, etcetera, etfuckingcetera. But while that may be an accurate summation of my reaction, the fact is that no review of this story can possibly be as engaging as the story itself. So please. Just read it. I promise you, it’ll be worth your while.
But since we’re already here, we might as well do the plot summary: our main character is a twentysomething young professional with a lovely if slightly useless boyfriend, a crushingly dull day job and an ambition to break into stand-up comedy, with the story opening with a combined stand-up set and internal monologue. It’s a dizzying combination which is at first mildly disorienting, but perfectly sets up the themes of the story; our narrator is trapped inside her own head, constantly performing for an audience which seems entirely apathetic. It’s also a perfect summation of Anders’ general style; the reinvigoration of old tropes by approaching them at a completely new and slightly oblique angle. Immediately afterwards the titular ghost intrudes, and that’s all you’re getting from me. Trust me, you’ll want to experience this plot for yourself.
The virtues of this story are obvious from the start. It is immensely funny, with a tremendous gift for the one-liner, with the comedy taking a suitably morbid turn towards the end, an inversion which Anders handles impeccably. There are also an abundance of genuinely touching moments, building to a bittersweet conclusion which marks a triumphant end to this effortlessly masterful story. What’s most remarkable is the story’s sheer economy of language; Anders delivers a host of fascinatingly flawed characters and a consciously slipshod, non-linear narrative, and not a word of it is wasted. But then, this is a comedy (of sorts), so I suppose it makes sense. It’s all in the timing, after all.
‘Ghost Champagne’ is as haunting and intoxicating as the name implies. And the fact that it’s available for free makes me feel like I’ve been handed a bottle of moët with the Sunday papers. I could not recommend this more highly.